Afghan government sets condition for peace talks with Taliban

The Taliban and Ghani’s government observed a few days of cease-fire during Eid-Ul-Fitr last year. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

Afghan government sets condition for peace talks with Taliban

  • Insists on a cease-fire to gauge unity among members of the insurgent group

KABUL: In a clear sign of shifting strategies, Afghanistan’s government on Tuesday said that the Taliban should declare a one-month cease-fire before the restart of any peace negotiations.

The announcement follows the resumption of efforts by US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to revive Washington’s talks with the Taliban.

This was after US President Donald Trump’s decided to abruptly call off the discussions last month, just as both parties were nearing the signing of a deal after a year of intensive talks that had seen Kabul being excluded from the start due to the Taliban’s objection.

In the past, President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which relies on the US military as well as financial aid, had set no conditions for holding talks with the Taliban.

However, on Tuesday, Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, said that the government was insisting on setting a condition because events from the past year showed that “the Taliban were not united, have no control over the war … and some of Taliban’s major commanders have joined Daesh.”

“We have put the condition not with an intention of blocking peace, our purpose is that they have to show … and it is important that the Taliban should prove how much control they have over their commanders and warriors,” Mohib told a news conference in Kabul.

The Taliban had no immediate comment. While holding talks with Khalilzad, the Taliban has always insisted that the group will announce a truce only after Washington sets a timetable for a complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Ghani’s government observed a few days of cease-fire during Eid-Ul-Fitr last year when thousands of Taliban fighters had flooded urban areas, including Kabul, before joining the battleground and broadening their attacks.

The truce was the first-of-its kind in the latest chapter of the US-led war that began 18 years ago with the Taliban’s ousting.

Mohib said that Khalilzad’s visit this week, the first since he resumed his mission of reviving the talks with the Taliban, was not about peace in the country, but about the exchange of prisoners, which includes a US and an Australian teacher from the American University in Kabul who were kidnapped in 2016 and are held by the Taliban.

He did not elaborate further and did not say what the Taliban’s demands were in return for the freedom of the pair.

But in recent weeks, Taliban sources said that Anas Haqqani, son of a former prominent Taliban leader, was among those that the group had demanded to be set free. Anas, who was captured outside Afghanistan by US officials years ago, is held in an Afghan government-run jail.

Mohib said that Kabul was keen to attend an intra-Afghan conference hosted by China in which Taliban delegates are expected to participate. He said that it had asked Beijing to hold it after the announcement of the Afghan presidential election results that have been delayed twice.

Malaysia’s ruling party makes fresh push for Anwar to take over as PM

Updated 4 min 11 sec ago

Malaysia’s ruling party makes fresh push for Anwar to take over as PM

  • Mahathir Mohamad promised to hand over the reins to Anwar Ibrahim soon after laying the groundwork for a new administration
  • But says he may need more time to repair the damage left by the scandal-tainted government of his predecessor

MALACCA, Malaysia: Leaders of Malaysia’s ruling party on Sunday renewed a push for Anwar Ibrahim to lead the country, as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad dithers on the timing of the planned power transition he had promised to his former rival-turned-ally.
Mahathir, elected to power in May 2018, had promised to hand over the reins to Anwar, 72, soon after laying the groundwork for a new administration.
But Mahathir has said he may need more time to repair the damage left by the scandal-tainted government of his predecessor, Najib Razak, while Anwar grapples with deep-seated factionalism within his own People’s Justice Party (PKR), the largest member of the ruling coalition.
“As far as I am concerned there has been clarity (that it will happen), except for the time,” Anwar told a news conference after PKR’s annual congress in Malacca, about 150 km from the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur.
“But let us work out an acceptable formula so that the transition is smooth and orderly.”
Hundreds of delegates were seen holding “Anwar PM-8” placards at Sunday’s congress, a year after he was elected the party’s president. PKR was formed 20 years ago to carry on Anwar’s reform agenda, after he was first jailed on what he has said were trumped-up charges of corruption and sodomy.
Anwar, who would be the country’s eighth premier should he take power, has been jailed twice, receiving a second sodomy conviction in 2015. He was granted a royal pardon last May.
Last week, Anwar denied fresh allegations that he had sexually assaulted a former male aide, describing the accusation as “politics at its worst.”
“This is not an ordinary annual conference. It is an important platform for Anwar to legitimize his position as the successor to Mahathir,” said Adib Zalkapli, a Malaysia director with political risk consultancy Bower Group Asia.
“He won the party leadership last year. This year, Anwar has to show that he is still in control of the party.”
But on Saturday, Anwar’s party deputy and perceived rival, Azmin Ali, led a walkout after delegates hit out at the president’s critics for allegedly trying to destabilize the party and challenge Anwar.
Azmin denied it was a boycott of the three-day meeting, insisting that their message was for the party to focus on governance and not be hung up on the power transition.
“When the people voted us in, the people wanted us to reform ... that should be the focus of the new government,” Azmin told reporters.